A strangely hard note to end on, the last in the series (or last for nearly 20 years) is a measure of distance travelled, of cultural history measured in friendships and lovers. Tales started out in the 70s, in the cultural comedown after the 60s, of the weird and relentlessly hopeful city of San Francisco. It ends in the late 80s, with yuppyism and AIDS and the dissolution of marriages and the estrangement of friendships.
The centre of the action really is Mary Ann who has really become a utterly repugnant 80s yuppy. The slow creep of her character towards this over the last three books shows how her friends continue to give her the benefit of the doubt, to see in her the idealistic struggling journalist who fought to save DeDe’s twins and who covered stories such as Jonestown. But newer characters such as Thack only see the Mary Ann of now, the grasping, fame-obsessed phony who puts her own desires before everyone else’s.
Now, I’m not going to say she throws away a perfectly good marriage. He’s cheated on her, she’s cheated on him, they don’t talk about anything important, she kept the secret of his infertility from him, he kept the possibility of having HIV from her. This was never a good marriage. BUT she does not end it for any of those valid or glaringly obvious reasons. She ends it because Bryan no longer fits with her lifestyle. She’s about success and networking and going places. Bryan isn’t any of those things. Ultimately, she dumps him because he’s not doing anything for her, practically or image-wise. She dumps her kid too, the kid she never really wanted and found easy to palm off onto a nanny at the first available opportunity. The kid it seems is equally underwhelming.
It’s hilarious actually because the power couple she really envies is actually a closet case and his beard. She’s so shallow that she can’t even recognise anything other than image when she sees it. And because she’s not always been the monster she’s become, you just read it and think, “You’ll regret this. In five years or even less, you’re going to come out this fame masturbation spiral and realise you have nothing real left in your life.”
Bryan stays. He stays in the city, he stays with his kid, he stays friends with Michael. Whatever life he’s left with, he can plant and grow.
In a weird way, this book mirrors at an angle the ending to the second book, where Burke asks Mary Ann to run away with him to New York, where the work is better. When she doesn’t go, she asks Michael why she’s so dumb as to pass up such a great opportunity. He tells, “Maybe you’re just tired of running away.” Her real life is in San Francisco, following Burke to New York is just a way to back out and start fresh without having to build anything or last anywhere. And that is said to her again in this book, Bryan asks if she’s running away from Michael, whose HIV might any day become a horrendous and painful death from AIDS. Maybe she is, maybe that’s part of it. Maybe she’s had too much reality watching Jon die, knowing Michael could get as sick any day, knowing she’s in a dysfunctional marriage with a man she barely remembers why she loved, with a kid that was meant to be the glue that held them together but never really stuck. Maybe she’s running from too much reality into all that safe, glitzy image.
Anyway, it’s a strangely muted installment for what is meant to be the goodbye to the series. However it ends of the possibility of new romance in Michael’s nursery, a place where he brings new life, plants them and helps them grow. It’s a nice image to say farewell on.